Hang in There!

Hebrews 10:26-39 

Intro: Warning Labels

Children’s Superman costume – This costume does not enable the wearer to fly.

Catfish stink bait – Warning: Not intended for human consumption.

Rowenta Iron -- Warning: Never iron clothes on the body.

Sainsbury Peanuts -- Warning: This product contains nuts.

Liquid Plummer -- Warning: Do not reuse the bottle to store beverages.

Bowl Fresh Toilet Cleaner -- Safe to use around pets and children, although it is not recommended that either be permitted to drink from toilet.

Dremel Rotary Tool -- This product not intended for use as a dental drill.

Christmas Lights -- Warning: For indoor or outdoor use only.

Jonsreds Chainsaw -- Do not attempt to stop chain with hands.

Foam Hair Coloring -- Do not use as an ice cream topping.

Demazin Infant Drops -- This formula may cause drowsiness, if affected do not operate heavy machinery or drive a vehicle.

The Bible has a few of its own warning labels.

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  (Heb 10:26-31)

In one fell swoop the writer seems to contradict everything we’ve ever learned about God’s mercy and grace. You mean God isn’t a soft touch? I thought we’d gotten past all that fire and brimstone. This sounds like you can go too far and God won’t forgive you after that.

We’ve spent a lot of time telling people that God is a God of forgiveness and that there isn’t anything you can do that is too bad for God to forgive – that grace covers all our sin and we don’t have to live with the fear that God won’t forgive us anymore. But then this Hebrews writer comes along and says this – how are we to take what he says?

To whom is he writing and what is he telling them? Let’s step back a moment to what we know about the original recipients of this letter: He is writing to Jewish Christians faced with persecution and oppression for their faith in Jesus Christ (they have already experienced it) – and they are wondering if it is all worth it. They are standing at a crossroads weighing the cost of following Jesus at the expense of the suffering they are going through. Why not just go back to the way it used to be?

The writer specifically focuses on what he calls “deliberate” or willing sin. This is no longer the gradual neglectfulness, the slipping way he warned against back in chapter 2.

Faced with a decision, will they turn back to their former way of life? Knowing what they know about Jesus and the new covenant (he calls this “the knowledge of the truth” – and not just that they know it, but they have experienced it), will they turn back to the old covenant and the dead ritualism of Judaism? Back to a guilty conscience and hopelessness? Here at the crossroads of faith and faithlessness, which direction will they turn?

Also important to understanding what he’s talking about, we need to examine what he says about this sin. To begin with, he’s not focusing in on our sin with a magnifying glass and saying, “There’s a sin, and yes, you intended to do it – I’m sorry but you’re lost. Off to hell with you!” The tense of this word tells us that, instead of looking at an individual sin, he’s talking about the larger context of your life – is sin your way of life? Your master?

When the NT writers speak of sin, they acknowledge that without the blood of Jesus, we are hopelessly, helplessly lost in sin. In fact, the apostle John said that the one thing worse than being a sinner is to lie and deny it. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth… If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:6,8,10).

In fact, if deliberate sin is unforgivable, then we are all unforgiven – you are, I am. I may be guilty of a lot of unintentional sins, but far more often, I am guilty of choosing the wrong instead of the right. The core definition of sin is choosing my will over God’s will.

But remember what was sandwiched in between those condemnations? John concludes: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness…My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:7;9;2:1-2)

The apostle Paul said the same thing – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)

So then, the force of this word is not to stand in condemnation of the man or woman who sins, but to warn us of the danger of leaving the “knowledge of the truth” to go back into a life of sin, dominated by sin, lost in sin – and tell yourself you are just fine.

For that person who deliberately turns his back on the sacrifice of Christ (and effectively says, “I can find a better deal”), there is no other sacrifice that is available or will ever be available. For Christ’s sacrifice was once for all, never to be repeated. If you abandon Christ, thinking you can find spiritual fulfillment or enlightenment from some other source, our writer says: You have crucified the Son of God all over again.

That is what our writer is telling us is “the knowledge of the truth” from which these Jewish Christians were in danger of turning. The truth of the gospel – that we are not under law, but under grace. That our faith rests not on fallible, sinful priests, but on the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God, who rules as high priest on the basis of an indestructible life.

The power of sin and the sting of death have been defeated at the cross of Christ. Why, why would you turn from your Savior to go back to the world, back to dead ritualism, back to a way of life that leads only to death?

Our author isn’t give to wild exaggeration, but listen to the words he carefully chooses to describe the man who deliberately turns from the truth back to a life without Christ: “…has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace.” (Heb 10:29)

The man who violates the law of Moses, he said in verse 28, deserved the punishment of death. How much worse punishment does this one deserve who spurns the sacrifice of Christ?

Having spurned the salvation of God, there is nowhere else to go, and so we read some of the most tragic and fear inspiring words in the Bible: “no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:27)

What it all comes down to is that God takes sin seriously.

The wrath of God and punishment in hell aren’t popular topics. We would rather hear of God’s love and mercy, we like God’s grace and forgiveness. Tell me about heaven and my mansion. But here they are – and the Bible doesn’t soft-peddle the hard side of God’s love. It warns, it pleads, it exhorts, it threatens – but no one can read the Bible without coming face to face with the reality of God’s relentless demand for holiness and his warning of consequences when we reject it. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:31)

Isn’t it amazing – our modern culture demands to be warned about every potential danger, and wants warning labels on every product (and will sue when we aren’t warned not to put a cup of hot coffee between our legs while we’re driving).

We put the skull and crossbones on poison to warn our children. We want to know how much cholesterol and how many grams of fat. We want to have a printed warning on a plastic grocery sack that putting it over our head might cause suffocation.

But we get offended when the Bible warns us to fear the wrath of God, and self-righteously proclaim: “I could never believe in a God who would send anyone to hell.” Hell is never the choice of God, but it is unavoidably the consequence of the choices we make that push God out of our life.

We need to label sin as “sin” – it is caustic, lethal, deadly. Sin is not a mistake or an alternative lifestyle. Sin separates us from God and spurns the sacrifice of Christ. And sin – our sin – my sin – was the reason Christ was nailed to the cross and died – for my sin. Why would I want to go back to that?

But this isn’t the writer’s main purpose. As we read this passage in context, we must understand that his first and foremost purpose is encouragement and exhortation – to warn them, yes, but especially to make clear God’s will for their lives.

His purpose is found in the next seven verses in which he quickly turns to encouragement. Don’t give up, don’t go back, don’t fall away – but remember what God has done in your life, claim the reward that God has promised and persevere to the end.

Let’s hear what he says:

“Remember”

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. (Heb 10:32-33)

They weren’t always discouraged and despairing. There was a time when their faith was strong and they stood firmly for God. They faced some incredibly difficult times – the persecution was relentless – but they trusted God, they lived by faith. They needed a reminder of that faith.

“Reward” 

You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (Heb 10:34-35)

Why did they do it? Isn’t it crazy to expose yourself to such abuse? Not if you see through God’s perspective: he says, “you knew that you had better and lasting possessions.” They had lost their earthly possessions, but here the writer is telling them, it’s not for nothing.

And so he tells them: “your confidence will be richly rewarded.” Don’t confuse this with the replacement of possessions, more of what this world has to offer. This reward makes everything else look like a bunch of garage sale leftovers. When you have your eyes fixed on heaven, the things of this earth just seem to fade in importance.

And it’s not just a reward that sits off in the future, but a present reality of God’s presence, God’s guidance, God’s blessing.

“Remain”

In these final verses of the chapter are words of hope and encouragement to those today who struggle with their faith, who have been wounded and wonder about the place of God or his church in their lives.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Heb 10:36-39)

Don’t stop short of the goal line. With the summit in sight, don’t quit climbing and give up. Instead of giving up and throwing in the towel, turn your heart to God, seek him in his word, let him once again begin to work in your life.

We’re all vulnerable to discouragement, every Christian experiences times when he or she wonders if it’s worth it. But the promise of God is that it is. And he uses the word “persevere” or “endure” – hang in there! If you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on, God never gives up on you. Paul promises us: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor 10:13)

God is faithful and he honors faithfulness in his people.

In the play, A Raisin in the Sun, Walter, the son loses $6,200 in insurance money that was supposed to go for the daughter, Beneatha to go to medical school. Mama and Beneatha have this heated argument about Walter.

Beneatha: That is not a man. That is nothing but a toothless rat.

Mama: Yes – death has come in this here house. Done come walking in my house. On the lips of my children. You what supposed to be my beginning again. You what supposed to be my harvest. You – you mourning your brother?

Beneatha: He's no brother of mine.

Mama: What you say?

Beneatha: I said that that individual in that room is no brother of mine

Mama: That's what I thought you said. You feeling like you better than he is today? Yes? What you tell him a minute ago, that he wasn't a man? Yes? You give him up for me? You done wrote his epitaph too – like the rest of the world? Well, who give you the privilege?

Beneatha: Be on my side for once! You saw what he just did, mama! You saw him down on his knees. Wasn't it you who taught me to despise any man who would do that – do what he's going to do?

Mama: Yes I taught you that. Me and your daddy. But I thought I taught you something else too. I thought I taught you to love him.

Beneatha: Love him? There is nothing left to love.

Mama: There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don't mean for yourself and for the family 'cause we lost the money. I mean for him; what he has been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in his self 'cause the world done whipped him so. When you start measuring somebody, measure him right , child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.

I promise you, God measures you right. He knows what you’ve been through, and what hills and valleys you’ve travelled, and he never quits loving you.